12:09 PM

My head injury was the catalyst that helped me to see how important it was for me to change my life. Up until the point of the horse accident, I realized that my children had mostly seen me sad, stressed, or scared. When I did seem happy, it was usually forced and fake for the children's sake. So while lying on my back in a horse corral and staring at the dark sky on that spring night in 2004, I thought to myself that if I die now my children will have never known me to be truly happy. That thought caused me to feel a deep sadness for my children. I wanted a chance to make that not be true and that is when I started to change my life.

Recovering from a traumatic brain injury is like being in a deep and sluggish fog that slowly starts to dissipate over time. I knew that I had hurt myself, especially my brain when my head made contact with the metal fence. However, I didn't know the extent of my injury immediately.

After arriving at the hospital by ambulance the night after the horse accident, my world started to get very foggy. I guess the adrenaline which had hit my blood stream after being thrown from the horse had finally stopped pumping through my veins. The swelling of my forehead had continued. Apparently the right side of my head had sort of a Frankenstein quality to it. At least that was what I was told by the ER nurse. It wasn't aesthetically comforting to know that my head looked large and squarish, but medically it was probably good news! Most of the swelling was occurring outside of my skull. Initial brain scans showed no bleeds on my brain and so the doctors stated I had a severe concussion and should consider myself lucky. They kept me for observation for a few more hours and since I had never lost consciousness, they released me.

I wanted to get home to my girls. My daughter was fine and I was so grateful knowing that nothing had been injured or broken on her little body. She had been released hours earlier after all of her scans and x-rays came back normal. So I tried to get out of my hospital bed and move to the wheel chair.

The problem is I couldn't walk. Whenever I moved the world started spinning so fast I had to fall to the floor and hold on for the ride and then hold perfectly still until it stopped. Even in bed I fought the vertigo. If I turned over or re-positioned my head, I felt myself and the bed start spinning in a fast circle. I was grateful the vertigo didn't cause nausea for me like it can for others, but I still couldn't function because I couldn't move. They told me that the intense vertigo would gradually go away and before I left the hospital they fitted me with a pair of crutches to use to get around.

So I went home and was soon left alone to recover with my six month old baby. Holding a baby while using crutches is impossible and since I was afraid of falling while carrying her, I crawled. I have memories of crawling across my bedroom floor to her crib. Using the crib to hoist myself up and get her out. Then I would use the crib with my one free arm to slowly drop to the ground and one arm crawl back to bed. It was awkward but safe and it got us to my bed where I could lay down and nurse her. She would sit and play on the bed until I crawled back to her crib and put her in. Thank goodness she hadn't started crawling yet herself.

I don't know how long it was before my mother and sister arrived and saw me like this. They were shocked when they saw the condition that I was in and that I was alone. I hadn't thought to call for help, I was so out of it. I was a sight to behold. The large hematoma on my head had slowly changed to a deep purplish blue and the color dripped down my face under the skin. In addition, to the dramatic purple and blue hues on the right side of my face, my eye was black and swollen. My hair was matted and still had remnants of dirt from the horse arena. I was so grateful that they could help me wash it.

The doctors were correct. The vertigo slowly left over time and a week later I was back at work teaching and wearing sunglasses. I didn't want to scare my first graders when they looked at my face. The swelling had gone down but now my bruising was starting to turn green and brown on my face and neck. I still struggled with positional vertigo. When I would focus with my right eye to write on the board, my classroom would start spinning. If I changed position and held still it would eventually stop. There were other subtle things that I noticed. It was hard to stay focused on a task for an extended amount of time. For the first time in my life, I suffered from headaches. I would become extremely fatigued by the end of the day and then I started to get thirsty.

It wasn’t a normal thirst, like the kind I had experienced in the past. This intense thirst started gradually until it became so powerful that I would have licked up a dirty puddle off the ground if that is all I could have found to drink.

I first noticed it when I was pumping breast milk during morning recess for my baby. There were a couple of us working moms and so the school had turned a large closet in the building into a lactation room where we could plug in the pumps and collect the milk for our babies. I remember thinking. Wow, I'm really thirsty. It must be the change of the weather (it was getting hotter outside) or I must be producing more milk.

Every day I would get a little thirstier. Eventually, I got to the point where I was drinking a full water bottle hourly and then running to the bathroom to pee it all out. This lasted all day and all night long. For the hour that I would sleep in between hydrating and dehydrating sessions at night, I would dream of water. Water, Water, Water! Tall glasses of water, streams of ice cold water, waterfalls, waves of water and in my dreams I would be trying to drink the water and yet I never could get it to my mouth. I would wake up desperate for water and running to the bathroom to pee out more water. It was as if every cell in my body was shrinking and screaming for water at the same time. I would gulp it down and it still wasn't enough. It was exhausting and I knew something was seriously wrong with me.

I scheduled an appointment with my doctor. I needed to see him anyway. It had been a month since the accident. He specialized in emergency medicine and sports medicine and he knew right away what was wrong with me. “It sounds like you’ve injured your pituitary,” he stated matter of factly. “The small master regulatory gland located in the center of the brain. It's very hard to injure that." He said, "Especially without damaging other areas of the brain.” He ordered an MRI to confirm it and called me after receiving the results. He further explained, "Your pituitary was almost ripped from its location when you jolted your brain in the fall. Its blood supply was compromised." He concluded that my pituitary was no longer functioning and had begun to atrophy.

He also went on to explain that my body would no longer be able to retain water on its own. Treatment consists of taking a synthetic hormone every 4-6 hours daily or when the crazy thirst starts for the rest of my life in order to avoid dehydration.  The medical diagnosis was Central Diabetes Insipidus.

"Be grateful you didn't break your neck or suffer cognitive brain damage," he went on to say.  "It really is quite a miracle." I left slightly in shock and trying to feel grateful but mourning the loss of my pituitary. I began to wonder how my life would be affected by this change. 

As my pituitary shrunk and atrophied, my courage grew. I knew now how short life could be now. A slight change in the angle I fell or the force of the fall could have easily changed the outcome of the injury causing it to be much more debilitating or fatal. How easy my life could have ended that night. Every day was a gift now and I knew it! 

My mother once wisely said to me, "Wendy, you live with what you allow and if you choose to allow it and live with it, you must accept it!" Well, for almost 15 years I had lived with abuse and allowed it to happen. I wasn't going to accept it anymore.

I had given all of my power and control to someone else and trying to take that back is a very hard thing to do. It almost seems impossible at times. 

I had made the mistake for years thinking that someone and something outside of myself was responsible for making me happy. I kept waiting for things to change, for him to change. When all a long I was the one needing to change in order to find happiness!  

I felt empowered now and I couldn't be intimidated. I felt stronger and more confident with the knowledge that happiness was attainable and within my reach. I was determined to make a better life for my daughters. 

Every time I felt thirsty, I was reminded of this and so constantly I was recommitting myself to moving forward with this change. If I felt weak I would eventually soon feel thirsty and then be reminded again. This process helped to strengthen me.

I knew that God had protected me and had spared my life. I felt His help and hand in my life. I also began to clearly see that my happiness did not include the man that I had been married to for all of those years. 

When I started to express this and assert myself, the violence increased. However, my thirst for happiness and peace were far greater than my fears and so I was able to slowly begin to change my life.

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  1. I never know if I should comment on here or facebook. But I had an idea that you had this condition but I had no idea it was so severe and also so miraculous that it wasn't worse! I can't imagine going through all of that with young babies and children to teach at school. I love how it helped you recognize the importance of becoming happy for you and for your daughters. The best lesson to learn in life is that giving other people control of your happiness never works.

  2. I love your writing! And I had to smile while reading this, which sounds odd, but it's because it reminds me of you in your classroom "snorting" your medicine and all of the fun and laughing we did together. :) love ya!

  3. I didn't know this part of your story. It's so interesting all the little details that lead up to the big shifts I our lives. I'm so glad your injury was not worse and that it was a catalyst for something better.

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